The war waging in Ukraine has the world’s attention. This includes governments imposing sanctions, sending weapons and supplies, and condemning Russia’s invasion in the strongest possible terms. Other international coalitions have also weighed in with support, including NATO and the UN.
Sports organizations took action too. FIFA disqualified the Russian team from World Cup qualifying. Other sports also banned Russian national teams from events or competitions. No one seriously disputed these decisions.
Then Wimbledon announced on April 20 that it would not allow Russian or Belarusian players to compete. Moreover, the players could not play tune-up events that precede tennis’s oldest and most storied tournament. There are currently four Russian men ranked in the ATP’s Top 30, including No. 2 Daniil Medvedev. There are five women in WTA’s top 40, which No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova leads. Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka is ranked fourth. Many of these players have gone public with their opposition to the invasion.
Not part of the agreement
This is a significant shift from an arrangement that tennis’s largest governing bodies agreed to. The previous agreement between the ATP men’s tour, WTA women’s tour, the four major tournaments (which also include the French Open, U.S. Open and the Australian Open), and the Davis Cup stipulated that players could compete but would not be identified as citizens of either country. (Belarus was included because it supported the invasion).
British government intervenes
Wimbledon representatives issued a statement, citing pressure from the British government to ban the individual players:
“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships.”
The optics would also likely not be good for the tournament if Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka or others from their countries raised the championship trophy.
Can they appeal the bans?
International agreements are hard to come by, even in sports. The four other tournaments and the two tours are not happy about the change, but there is little they can do; the seven tennis entities may be partners, but they operate independently. Responses to this move could include:
- Banned players could take legal action, arguing that they are now victims of discrimination.
- Players from other countries could speak up in support of the competitors.
- The tours could not allow the Wimbledon tournament’s results and points from their rankings.
Boston Marathon also bans runners
Track and field and skating have banned Russian and Belarusian athletes. The Boston Marathon, one of the largest in the world, also barred runners from those countries. There will likely be similar decisions at other international competitions in the coming weeks. Watch this space for more information as this issue unfolds.